Potosi is famous for several things; silver mining, carnival, the highest church in the world, as the town is also the highest town in the world, and the lack of crime.
The silver mine is inside a pyramid shaped mountain the Cero Rico (rich hill) which dominates the town. Potosi was once the richest place on Earth and at one time a bigger city than London. It is estimated that around two million souls have died in the mine, since the Spanish conquest. Mystery surrounds the exact numbers that died, no mass graves have been found, but the population of Bolivia collapsed in the time of the forced labour in the mine. In the past it was forced slave labour, to day it is optional but there is little other work to be found in the area.
We went into the mine with a guide; Edwardo. However first we bought supplies for the miners and gifts for a very special person who lived in the mine. Edwardo said this was ‘Uncle’. It turned out to be a full sized effigy of the Devil.
We bought Coca leaves, pure alcohol, cigarettes, dynamite and detonators as gifts.
Honeycombed with bore holes, tunnels and shafts from over five hundred years of
tunneling in three dimensions, the mine was ominous, the walls sparkled and the floor was a river of strange brown liquid. As we entered ever deeper Edwardo said that geologists expected the entire mountain to collapse soon. “Anytime” he said. Was he joking? Well he certainly made us nervous. Then the next thing was meeting his uncle. He gave the Devil a sip of alcohol, and lit up a cigarette and placed it in his lips, it was certainly a ‘he’, as the seated statue had a very erect penis.
Eventually we found a miner working alone at the end of a long shaft, he was relentless banging away cutting a hole for dynamite, whilst sucking on his cheek filled with Coca.
In the town it was carnival. It went on for two days and two nights. Unlike the carnival in Rio, this one in Potosi is more ethnic and natural. It moves relentlessly through the narrow streets, with many bands playing the same repetitive beat. The dancers and the crowds are all fuelled by beer, pure alcohol and Coca leaves.
The carnival is for the Feast of St. Bartholomew held on 24/25 August and in February is the Miners festival (one week).
greenish light has been observed on the hills around Potosi... The
is these lights are from underground caverns with active volcanic disturbances.
A book with great pictures and the Story of Potosi is
By Stephen Ferry
Cities of Bolivia
Child Miners Video - Unreported World Channel 4